Back in August 2009, it was reported that Mike Nichols was to work on a film adaptation of Patricia Highmith's thriller, Deep Water, with the help of writer Joe Penhall, who wrote the script for The Road. Since then, things have gone very quiet and I wonder if the project has been shelved. If anyone knows for sure, either way, please drop me a line. I've just finished reading Deep Water, and would easily rate it as one of Highsmith's most successful thrillers. It's told from the perspective of cuckolded husband, Vic Van Allen, pillar of his small community, publisher of obscure texts and keeper of snails. As with Tom Ripley, Vic's eye-view on the world is peculiar, to say the least, but we're drawn to it, because Highsmith is so consistent, careful and credible as a storyteller. Which is not say that her stories are always credible, rather the way in which she tells them is so coolly finessed and acutely focused that we never for a second doubt the authenticity of what we're reading, no matter how far her heroes might stray from what the rest of us consider acceptable or even usual behaviour. At one point in the story, Vic is observed by a psychologist, who pronounces him schizophrenic. As readers, we accept both the diagnosis and Vic's plausible amusement at it.
None of the tension sits on the surface. Highsmith rarely uses confrontational situations or action sequences to heighten our sense of fear or excitement. What she does is to painstakingly lay out the facts for our consideration, leading us all the while further and further into the nightmare and towards a conclusion that's unguessable and yet entirely convincing, the only conclusion we would accept, in fact.
We don't race to get there. This isn't a book we can't put down. In fact I recommend putting it down often, to allow time to assimilate the information. The tension comes from the control Highsmith exercises as a writer. A control she exerts over the reader with a cool, almost documentary prose style that tricks us into thinking we're not 'transported' or 'hooked'. Highsmith was smart enough to know that she didn't need to 'transport' the average reader anywhere; all the tension and horror she needed was right here, inside our heads. Bubbling away inside our small communities, like the one which supports Vic Van Allen right up until the final, shocking parting of ways.